Feeling the Bern in Staunton

The Bernie Sanders campaign has done something that none of the other 2016 presidential candidates have done yet (to the best of my knowledge).  They have opened a campaign office in the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia, specifically in the city of Staunton.  Given that the Shenandoah Valley has unfortunately been treated as a second-class region in many election cycles, I decided to check it out for myself.

IMG_3148Although I couldn’t find their address online, a member of the Staunton City Council gave me their location.  And so, on Tuesday, I traveled down to Staunton along with Marc Montoni, the secretary of the Libertarian Party of Virginia.

Fortunately their office was easy to find with several signs out front and a multitude in their window as well.  Two friendly people greeted us: a man and a woman.  I spent quite a while speaking to her and discovered that she was a member of the local Augusta County Democratic Party.  I didn’t talk as much to the other fellow, but his accent indicated that he was likely originally from somewhere many miles away.  While we were there, Will Hammer, the 2014 Libertarian candidate for Virginia’s 6th congressional district and a resident of Staunton, stopped by too.

I found that unlike most campaign offices, this one was created and is operated by volunteers and not paid staffers.  In addition, the Sanders campaign will soon be opening a more traditional office across the mountain in Charlottesville.  However, the Staunton office did have just about everything you’d find in most headquarters: a variety of signs, stickers (both lapel and bumper), position statements, and even a cardboard cutout of Senator Sanders which invited visitors to take selfies.  Alas, they had no buttons.  In the back, they had a schedule for events such as hosting a parade, debate watching, and phone calling.

As I mentioned to the volunteers, although I strongly disagree with many of Senator Sanders’ self-described socialist domestic policies, there are some positive aspects to him as well, such as his opposition to government spying with the liberty killing Patriot Act and not wishing to embroil the nation in additional overseas conflicts.

Would I prefer Sanders over Hillary Clinton?  Probably.  For all his concerning issues, Sanders seems a heck of a lot more trustworthy than Clinton.  Will that translate to me voting in the Democratic primary?  Possibly.  With Senator Paul out of the race, quite a few liberty-minded folks no longer care who wins the GOP nomination.  Fortunately, until party registration passes, Virginians have the liberty to vote in either the Republican or Democratic primaries (though, in an effort to quell freedom of speech and association, as of 2014 the Virginia GOP will expel any of their members who are discovered to have voted in a Democratic nomination contest).

Regardless of how things shake out, it was good to interact with the volunteers at the Sanders headquarters because they didn’t act like the traditional political establishment and were people who seemed genuinely enthusiastic about their candidate, a feeling that has been hard for me to rekindle since the retirement of Dr. Ron Paul.

Anyway, if you find yourself in the Staunton area and are interested in politics, stop by the Bernie Sanders office on Lewis Street and say hello.  Or you can find their group on Facebook.

 

Thoughts Of The Democratic Debate

Image from CNN
Image from CNN

Last night, the Democratic Party held their first presidential debate.  Aired on CNN, the event lasted about two hours.  The five participants were: former Virginia US Senator Jim Webb, Vermont US Senator Bernie Sanders, former First Lady, former New York US Senator, and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, former Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley, and former Rhode Island US Senator and former Rhode Island Governor Lincoln Chafee.

Some of the Democrats gathered at a local brewery in Harrisonburg to watch the debate.  Although I didn’t watch it live, I thought it would be useful to see it in its entirety and not merely snippets in order to be informed.

Here are my my thoughts:

I was very unimpressed by the front-runner, Hillary Clinton.  It is quite possible that she articulated some point on which she and I agreed, but, if so, I do not remember it.  Her declaration that she is running to be the first woman president sounded like needless pandering.  Yes, there is nothing wrong with a female president, but voting for a candidate strictly based upon gender is as foolish and myopic as voting for a candidate based upon race.  She repeatedly attacked the Republicans without offering specifics sounded like nothing more than an effort to score cheap points with the Democratic audience.  In addition, she used far more generalities than anyone else.  Even though she has the highest name ID, based upon her performance in the first debate, she would be my least desirable choice.

Likewise, Martin O’Malley failed to wow me at all, more or less sticking to traditional Democratic talking points.  However, he did make a good comparison in his closing statement about the difference between the Republican and Democratic debates thus far.

There was a time or two that I agreed Lincoln Chafee, especially when it came to foreign policy, but his defense of several of his early votes was pathetic; his excuse that he had just gotten into office sounded like he had no idea what he was doing and shouldn’t have run in the first place.  I didn’t care much for him when he was a liberal Republican and not much has changed.

I was glad to hear Senator Sanders standing up for our civil liberties against the overreaching power of the federal government when it came to matters of the NSA and the Patriot Act, as well as his arguments for a more reasonable foreign policy.  However, pushing for a domestic policy that advocates so much “free” stuff and raising the minimum wage indicated to me that he doesn’t have a sound understanding of economics and the free market.  College degrees for all, especially those who don’t even want one, makes them almost effectively worthless.

Lastly, although I didn’t agree with quite a lot Jim Webb said, I appreciated his views on foreign policy, gun rights, and trying to stand up for all citizens, regardless of the colour of their skin.  He may have not gotten the most time, but from a liberty perspective, he sounded like the best Democratic choice at this point.

Therefore, based solely upon this debate, I would presently rate the candidates as follows:  Webb, Sanders, Chafee, O’Malley, and Clinton at the bottom.  Assuming I didn’t vote in the Republican primary, which I am planning to do based, of course, upon who is in the race and who is leading, I would consider voting for Webb in the Democratic primary.  After all, I voted for Webb in the 2006 Virginia Democratic primary for U.S. Senate (but not in the general election) as I felt he was the best option in that race.

Nevertheless, I encourage you to watch the debate and decide for yourself.